Short Stories

“Mother Mary’s Pound Cakes”

“The Croaks are Coming”

“Mother Mary’s Pound Cakes”

“Mother Mary ain’t gonna like that.”

“Mother Mary ain’t gonna know,” Jesper told her. Despite not wanting to listen to his sister, Jesper stopped what he was doing. “Alright, let’s leave.” The siblings ran back through the field to their cottage.

Jesper beat Delilah back to their house. He threw the screen door open and stopped in his tracks. The sweet smell of Mother Mary’s homemade pound cakes filled the room.

“I see ‘at look in yer eye, boy,” Mother Mary said. “Ain’t no cake fer ya ’til the Warshing’s done.”

Jesper hung his head in defeat. There was no reason to argue with Mother. He turned to go back outside, running into his sister.

“What happened?” she mouthed. Jesper looked her dead in the eyes, saying nothing. Delilah didn’t dare enter the cottage. She followed her brother off the porch. When they were safely out of earshot, he stopped and answered her.

“Cake’s ready. We cain’t get none.”

“Cain’t never?” Her eyes grew wide, tears forming in the corners.

“Not ’til the Warshing’s done.” Delilah did cry now. Loud sobs matched with heavy tears.

Jesper stoically held his sister. He stared blankly at the woods beyond them, not allowing his own dread to bleed through. Delilah was young, she couldn’t remember the last Washing, but she knew it was bad.

Jesper tried to comfort her. “All our other siblings went through it. Micah ‘n Samuel… Rose. Ellie too.” Jesper racked his brain, trying to remember the others. His siblings liked to change their names to play tricks on him. With a big family, it was common to misremember things, he was told.

“Children, why the long faces?” They both turned toward the sound. Father Oba rode the wagon down their long driveway.

“Stop crying,” Jesper whispered through trembling lips.

He ran down the drive to Father Oba and then kept pace with the cart back toward the house. Father sold Mother’s cakes at the market in town, doing his part to keep their family afloat. Jesper envied him. Father was the only one in the family allowed to leave the farm. A muffled knock emanated from the covered cart. Jesper jerked his head toward the noise.

“What’d ya bring home?”

“Nothin’. Found some jars on the side of the road. Must be rattlin’ about.” Father Oba changed the subject. Donning a radiant smile, he looked down at Jesper. “Ready t’ warsh away yer sins?” The words punched the boy in the stomach. He was too old to feel scared, he was told, but unable to form words, he shook his head. “Chores did?” Jesper was scared now. No, they weren’t done. Father Oba didn’t seem to mind. “Run along and fetch Delilah. Y’all finish up ‘n we’ll eat supper.”

Jesper turned and ran.

“Ya know ya cain’t leave early and not git caught.”

Jesper knew, but he didn’t want to respond to his brother. Elmer scared him now too. He shouldn’t, Jesper was the oldest of all of his siblings, but Elmer didn’t talk the same. He didn’t look quite right either. But Jesper didn’t have a good memory, he was told. He kept on throwing wheat to the threshing floor and beating it good. Mother Mary’s famous pound cakes were all made from scratch. Mother and Father’s children had to do their part; they lived on the farm and they had to pull their own weight. Life as a farmer was tough, but Father Oba said it beat living in a cramped and smelly city.

“Did ya smell that new cake?” Maddie Lynn asked. Jesper indicated that he had, keeping his focus on his chores. Maddie Lynn turned to her sister and asked her the same question, Delilah answering in the affirmative as well.

All of the children stopped what they were doing when the ring of the dinner bell cut through the air. They quickly loaded up the separated grains and stored their tools. Time to eat.

Jesper poked listlessly at his potatoes and gravy.

“S’matter, boy?” Father Oba stared at him from across the long table.

Feeling the man’s eyes burning into him, Jesper forced a forkful into his mouth. “Nothing, Father.”

“We’re all sinners, Jesper.” Father motioned to the entire table. “All of us.” Mother nodded her head. “We warsh away our sins to be pure. To be clean. Keep yer chin up. The Warshing’s a glorious time.”

Jesper nodded his head and forced himself to take another bite. They ate in silence after that.

After supper, Delilah, Maddie Lynn, and the other daughters helped Mother Mary wash dishes. Jesper brought his plate into the kitchen. Mother took the plate and placed it in the sink. She gave him a warm hug. Jesper wrapped his arms around her and squeezed tightly.

“Don’t ya fret over the Warshing, hon’,” she whispered to him. “Ev’ry child has t’ have their sins warshed away.” She knelt down to be eye-level with the boy. Gently cradling his head between her hands, she added, “The Good Lord needs us t’ be pure an’ clean. When we all meet him, we need t’ know we can say we been warshed clean.” She kissed Jesper on the nose. “Run along, hon’, Father Oba is waitin’ fer ya.”

Jesper trudged through the kitchen and exited out the back door. He spied Father Oba waiting for him at the forest’s edge. Father raised a hand in greeting and then waved for Jesper to hurry up. Jesper ran through the yard to Father.

Father Oba placed a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Today’s the most important day of yer life,” he began. Holding Jesper’s hand, he led him into the woods, following the path to the creek. “Chin up, this crick water’ll warsh ya clean.”

Jesper kept silent the entire hike, knowing when to nod and grunt his understanding at Father Oba’s speech.

Mother kept an eye out through the kitchen window above the sink. Washings usually don’t take too long anyway. Soon after, she saw Father Oba emerge from the woods.

“Children, Father ‘n yer brother are back from the Warshing.” The children ran outside to greet their brother. Mother watched through the kitchen window. The old man and boy walked toward the throng of children. Mother smiled, being reunited after a Washing was such a happy feeling. The children would get so excited they’d make up all sorts of crazy tales.

Delilah looked at her brother as he walked across the yard. Something struck her as odd. She cocked her head to the side, thinking. Was he shorter? Maybe a little skinnier? She guessed it didn’t matter. Father always said children would look different after their sins were washed away. She ran to meet him.

“Hey Jesper,” she said, smiling. “How’d it go?”

The boy looked at her strangely. “Why’d you say my name like that?”

“What d’ ya mean, silly? That’s yer name.”

“My name’s Caspar,” the boy answered.

“And this is Delilah, one of yer many sisters,” Father Oba said.

“Caspar?” she asked.

Father Oba tussled her hair. “Yer the one bein’ silly now, young lady. Just like yer brother, always misrememberin’ things.”

“The Croaks are Coming”

sweet tea

Braahnk. Braahnk.

“The Croaks are coming.” Mortimer rocked back in the rickety chair, taking another swig of sweet tea. The breeze blowing through the porch cooled his leathered skin during the midsummer’s night.

“Ain’t no such thing as Croaks, Papaw.” Little Averitt said he didn’t believe. But his wide eyes and his goosebumps betrayed his words. “They’re just bullfrogs.”

The boy’s grandfather turned to him. “There are bullfrogs out there, for sure. Cicadas and ‘gators. Cottonmouths too.” They scanned the swamp that stretched out beyond the front porch. Plenty out there that could do a man in.


This time, Averitt jumped. Mortimer let out a chuckle. Averitt climbed off the floor and edged closer to his Papaw.

“You gotta be careful this year, boy. You’re finally ripe.”

“They don’t take little boys away!” With defiance, Averitt belted out his words. It is said that the Croaks only snatched children of at least eight years. Averitt had never seen it happen. He had never been friends with older kids either. Mortimer enjoyed toying with his grandson, but he knew Averitt had better stay close to home this summer. The Croaks weren’t too concerned with the child’s belief system. A lack of belief didn’t keep Mortimer’s friend safe. Nor his brother. Of course, everyone in the small town of Henry believed the boys ran away. That they did believe.


“Is it time for bed yet?” Averitt was getting awfully fidgety. Even more fidgety than an eight-year-old ought to be. Mortimer threw another gulp of sweet tea down the hatch. A few cubes of ice rattled around the empty jar. He stood to stretch, his back popping like a corn cob thrown on dying embers.

“I suppose it is, boy.”

biscuits and gravy

“Averitt, get down here! Breakfast’s ready!” Eleanor didn’t believe. She had had to listen to her husband talk about Croaks her entire marriage. Sure, she didn’t meet Mortimer until later in life. And she didn’t grow up in Henry. But she was the best grandma Averitt could ask for. She treated him like her own. She treated him to fluffy, buttery, cathead biscuits, topped with her famous sausage gravy for breakfast. Half-asleep, Averitt made his way downstairs. “Did Papaw keep you up late again last night?”

Mortimer wasn’t going to let Averitt answer this one.

“I wouldn’t dare such a thing, Ellie!”

Averitt flashed a grin. “We heard the Croaks last night, Grandma!”

That lit her up. “What did I tell you about fillin’ that boy’s head with lies!”

“Aw, they was just bullfrogs is all.”

“But you told me—”

Mortimer wouldn’t let his grandson protest. Now wasn’t the time. Gotta let Eleanor get off to the neighbor’s house, too many goats to milk and not enough hands. Eleanor headed to the washbasin to clean up. Scrubbing dishes, she was still hot, spouting off to no one in particular, but Mortimer sure could hear it. She dried the last dish, washed her hands, and walked to the front door. Paused. Turned.

“Don’t scare the poor boy, Mort.” She walked back over to Averitt and planted a wet kiss on his cheek. He wasn’t too keen on grandma-kisses, but accepted her affection. Eleanor was going to be late. She turned and headed out the door.

Mortimer walked over to the window. He watched her walk down the dirt road. Once Eleanor was a sufficient distance, he turned back to Averitt. “You better believe those were Croaks, boy! Every ten years. Middle of summer they come.”

Only by accident of birth did Averitt miss the last Pickin’. He was more curious to hear the tale again under the safety of daylight. Mortimer and Avery sopped their plates clean and headed outside.

No breeze today, the oppressive heat doing a number on Mortimer. He found his seat and pulled out a handkerchief to fan himself. Averitt plopped down at the edge of the porch, feet dangling over the side. The grass hadn’t been mowed in a while, the taller weeds grazed against Averitt’s calves. Averitt was eager to listen. Sweat was already forming on Mortimer’s brow. He wiped with the ‘kerchief and resumed fanning.

He began the tale, “The Pickin’s been going on for longer than Henry’s been a town. Every ten years they come. Middle of summer. We never know when exactly. It always varies by a couple days. But they’ll be here this year. They’ll be here soon. And every ten years we hear the same excuses. So-and-so ran away. Charles was killed by his father.”

Mortimer paused. Charles was his friend. He’s remembering.

“Mr. Haddick didn’t kill his boy! He loved Charles. He’d do anything for that boy. Anything.”

Averitt turned to look at his Papaw. Mortimer tried to hide it, but Averitt caught the handkerchief swatting a tear from the corner of Mortimer’s eye. Averitt didn’t acknowledge it; he knew better. Turning back around, he kicked at one of the weeds.

The old man composed himself. “The Croaks are horrible creatures. They’ll snatch you from your bed. From the porch. From your parents’ arm—” He saw the boy twitch. Shouldn’t have said that. Averitt’s parents both died a couple years back. Mortimer continued, “But they love to hunt in the swamp. You don’t venture out to the swamp this summer. Not to fetch a ball that was tossed too hard. Not cause someone dared you. You shouldn’t even want to leave this porch this year. The Pickin’ will happen soon.”

What little hair Averitt had on the back of his neck began to rise. He wanted to hear more.

“Tell me what they look like Papaw.”

Mortimer wiped more sweat away. His ‘kerchief was soaked now. Despite that, he kept trying to fan himself. “They look like bullfrogs, for sure. Sound like ’em too. But you know when you hear a Croak calling you. Sends a chill down your spine. Mesmerizes you. You only hear a Croak call once. They enchant you. You lie in bed, sheets pulled to your nose. Stare at the ceiling, not daring to move a limb.

“The Croaks are coming.

“You know they’re out there. You know they’re Pickin’. You know you’re next. But when you hear it, when you hear the call, all fear leaves your body. Your soul detaches from the flesh and is lifted from the bedsheets.


“The call is a sweet melody now, divorced from the one that draws you closer.

“The Croaks are coming.

“They wait in the shadows. They wait in the swamps. And they hunt at night. Slick skin the color of moss. A bullfrog’s body, hundred times over. Tall as I was before gravity took its toll. Then it smiles at you. Teeth like daggers. But by the time you see the smile you’re already gone.

“Then it hops. Feet like a grizzly pound the ground, claws digging deep into the soft mud. The call brings you closer.

“Then it pounces. Like a cougar, it grabs you, fangs sink in deep. They drag you deep into the swamp. You’ll never be seen from again. They take you back home. Back to the Other World.”

The comforting embrace of the sun’s rays wasn’t warm enough to stop the cold tingle running up Averitt’s spine. The young boy sat stiffly on the porch as if rigor mortis struck early; too scared to move.

Mortimer cupped his hands ’round his lips. “Braahnk.

Averitt fell off the porch. He whipped his head around to see Mortimer cackling. “Papaw!”

Still laughing, “I think it’s time we head inside. The shade we’re under now ain’t doing us no good.”


Wrapped up in a blanket, Eleanor had her nose in a book. Mortimer wasn’t concerned with the title, some sappy romance, he reckoned.

“How do you stand being covered up like that?” Even inside, even at night, Mortimer was still fanning himself. He lifted his glass of whiskey to his lips and drew in slowly. He didn’t drink like he used to, but the burn helped him get as much sleep as he could. The house was still.

“Why don’t you go check on Averitt?” Eleanor didn’t look up from her book, she just wanted Mortimer to leave her in peace. He obliged her, getting up from his seat.

He took the stairs carefully. The bones of the house were getting weak and he didn’t want to wake the boy. The door was cracked slightly, a sliver of moonlight illuminating the hallway. Mortimer poked his head in. Averitt wasn’t in his bed. Mortimer coaxed the door open.

“Boy, get away from that wind—”


The breath left his body. Cemented to the floor, his veins froze.

Averitt tumbled out the window.

Life filled Mortimer’s body once again. He ran to the window. With a thud, a shadow plopped into the yard. It came closer to his grandson.

Mortimer turned and ran for his wife. “Eleanor, Eleanor! The Croaks are c—” He made it to the top of the steps and, in his confusion, he tripped. He tumbled, house slippers over head, down the stairs. With a crack, his skull met the solid oak wall.


Eleanor dropped her book and rushed to her husband. A stream of blood was already steadily flowing down the steps. Eleanor frantically looked at her husband and up the stairs to her grandson’s room. She ran upstairs to find an empty room and an open window. Rushing to the window, she scanned the yard. Nothing.

ice water

“Drink up.”

Eleanor’s neighbor passed her a glass of ice water. Hands still shaking, Eleanor accepted. Thankfully, her neighbor had one of the few phones in town. Eleanor hurried over as fast as she could. The officer sitting across the table from the two wrapped up the interview.

“We’ll find Averitt. I promise. He’s the second child this week to run away. For the time being, I suggest you stay here. When you’re ready, we can help you prepare for Mortimer’s funeral.”

“We’ll find Averitt. I promise. He’s the second child this week to run away. For the time being, I suggest you stay here. When you’re ready, we can help you prepare for Mortimer’s funeral.”